This cool shot shows Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey generating Kopp-Etchell’s effect in the dust

A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command (SPMAGTF-CR-CC) stages on a hasty landing zone during a tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel (TRAP) drill at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Nov. 16, 2015. SPMAGTF-CR-CC is ready to respond to any crisis response mission in theatre to include the employment of a TRAP force. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Clarence Leake/Released)

A U.S. Marine Corps Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft is depicted with seemingly solid rotor disks.

The image in this post shows a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey assigned to Special Purpose MAGTF – CR – CC during a TRAP (tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel) drill at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, on Nov. 16, 2015.

What makes the shot particularly interesting (and vaguely Star Wars-like…) is the halo effect caused by the sand hitting the blades and eroding their metal surface. The effect is more visible around the blades’ tips where the peripheral speed is higher.

Caused by the oxidation of eroded particles, the so-called “Kopp-Etchells effect” (named by war correspondent Michael Yon after Cpl. Benjamin Kopp, and Cpl. Joseph Etchells, two fallen American and British soldiers) makes the tilt-rotor aircraft more visible from distance, hence more vulnerable.

Here are some interesting details included in a paper by Warren (Andy) Thomas; Shek C. Hong; Chin-Jye (Mike) Yu; Edwin L. Rosenzweig titled “Enhanced Erosion Protection for Rotor Blades” presented at the American Helicopter Society 65th Annual Forum, Grapevine, Texas, May 27 – 29, 2009″:

To prevent damage from rain or sand erosion, metallic abrasion strips, typically composed of stainless steel or titanium, are bonded to the blade leading edge to serve as a hard surface that absorbs the kinetic energy of the rain drop or sand particle. Metallic structures are especially good at rain erosion protection. Impacting sand particles, however, slowly erode away the metallic material. This is especially true near the outboard blade tip, where the high blade velocity ensures that the sand particles impact with greater kinetic energy. In this area, a metallic cap that is more durable to sand erosion, often composed of electro-formed nickel, is often bonded to the abrasion strip. Damaged abrasion strips and caps may be replaced to refurbish rotor blades; but this requires removal and repair at a depot, increasing maintenance cost and reducing fleet operational readiness.

A secondary concern with the erosion of metal abrasion strips pertains to the visible signature that occurs when microscopic metallic pieces are eroded away. In the erosion process, they often oxidize, giving off a visible spark and causing a corona effect in sandy environments.

In other words, when the metallic abrasion strips hit sand, a visible corona or halo around the rotor blades is generated. This is obviously more likely to happen when the aircraft flies low and its rotor wash blows more sand in the air. The visual effect, similar to that of sparks made by a grinder, is caused by the pyrophoric oxidation of the ablated metal particles.

H/T @DCDude1776 for the heads-up

About David Cenciotti 4406 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

2 Comments

  1. It’s not just tilt rotors that get affected by the Kopp-Etchells effect it’s a problem for many different types of rotor craft. In fact it affects any rotor crafts blade leading edge being abraded by dust particles. The metals used in the abrasion strips that shield the leading edges of rotor blades from abrasion (and propeller blades for the matter) are often Pyrophoric. There are photos showing the same effects in CH-47 Chinooks, CH-53s and UH-60 Blackhawks.

    There’s a good explanation here of the phenomenon.
    https://sciencebasedlife.wordpress.com/2012/11/01/the-kopp-etchells-effect/

  2. Consider a few probable combined effects:

    Heat caused by friction, electrostatics or ionization, and that intensely heated silicon dioxide is flammable at certain high temperatures.

    Some have even proposed harnessing the effect to provide power using turbines and purify silicon for manufacturing simultaneously.

    http://blog.hasslberger.com/2010/03/turning_sand_into_fuel_silicon.html

    The glass powder coating that results from combusting silicon compounds though is not easy to jackhammer off engine parts.

    Or it could just be as simple as something like flint on a rock, but with different materials and happening many thousands of times a second with really tiny impacts.

    Interesting effect to see though…looks cool!

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